Symphony in B-Flak
Second Movement: FRANCE
BRONZE STAR FOR 2ND CAMPAIGN
European Theater of Operations exclusive of the land areas of the United Kingdom and Iceland
6 June, 1944, to 24 July, 1944
ON the 12th France was sighted and we weighed anchor at 1900 hours. It was D + 6. Somewhere ashore we presumed Capt. Beer (then Lt.) was waiting for us. He had left us at Stonehenge, and together with the Battalion Executive and other Battery Executives he had landed on D + 3 to make arrangements to facilitate our landing. On this night Lt. Schneider, S/Sgt. Eirich, T/3 Crouse and Pvts. Calabro and Williams with the assistance of an Engineer Shore Battalion took the Radar ashore at Omaha Beach, between Vierville-sur-Mer and St. Laurent-sur-Mer. They then proceeded to Transit Area No. 2 and contacted Capt. Beer. Because it was getting dark and the tide was rising fast, the remainder of us did not disembark until the following morning, D + 7.
Under cover of darkness Jerry came strafing and bombing. Shore antiaircraft batteries threw up a terrific barrage, recalling our own London action. Machine guns from the ships spoke with their sharp staccato, punctuated at intervals by the roar of their larger guns. Jerry was there again when dawn was just breaking, and we saw strafing planes for the first time. With the approach of light, however, the raiders left hurriedly.
Then we had an opportunity to study the most famous beach in the world. A fleet stretching to the horizon and beyond lay on all sides of us. Barrage balloons dotted the sky, lending a bizarre touch to the whole effect. Water obstacles such as mines, logs, and wreckage could be seen everywhere. Already the engineers had built a steel breakwater, and a graveyard of ships sunk with precision effectively served the same end.
The shoreline was seething with activity as men, bulldozers, and vehicles moved with a singleness of purpose. On shore we could see an occasionial explosion and the smoke arising from burning houses. It was truly in the most literal sense an unforgettable scene.
Morning brought with it the difficult task of unloading our equipment without benefit of a dock. We were ordered to go ashore on Omaha Beach, just below Colleville-sur-Mer. We could now see clearly the appalling destruction wrought on the beach, although some semblance of order was being introduced. We saw our first French civilians, dazed and feebly waving. It was midafternoon when all the vehicles were unloaded and safely accounted for in one of the five Transit Areas.
In the transit Areas we had de-waterproofed our vehicles and guns as much as possible, and when all vehicles were assembled, we set forth on our 16-mile journey to our first position south of Isigny.
On this date Montebourg was captured and Carentan had just been taken. The Germans were still counter-attacking and the Allies were landing equipment by sky-trains of gliders on advance Normandy airstrips. The territory southeast of Isigny for several miles was firmly in our hands, but to the west the Germans were between us and the Vire River, scarcely two miles away.
We had just emplaced our equipment and were in the process of orientation when the unexpected happened. Artillery was pouring shells in our direction, and the command quickly came down, "March Order". Our position was untenable. Wisdom put a premium on haste, and within half an hour we were well on our way. We spent the night on the side of the road.
We arose at daybreak and after a short delay were on our way to our new position north of Isigny near Cardonville. Fortunately it was a prepared position, so all the equipment was emplaced and completely revetted well before evening. In the late evening Col. Hopper told us that our mission was a pattern defense of the battle area, and he gave us a short "pep talk". His words were interrupted by an order to man the equipment. A few minutes later we saw smoke shells bursting in the air. The Germans used this method of guiding the Luftwaffe pilots. Many of us were apprehensive lest they be gas shells, until we were informed of their real purpose.
The firing that first night was light although numerous targets were picked up by the radar. Nevertheless the realization had finally come that this was IT, in no uncertain terms. The flak-torn sky, the steady drone of hostile aircraft, the intermittent flashes of dropped bombs or our own guns, the smell of gun powder -- all these vivified the imagination, and our emotions ran the gamut of surprise, courage, anger, and action. By morning we were tired physically as well as emotionally, and sleep was sweet indeed.
The next night firing was considerably heavier, but it was on the 16th that we reached our peak with 247 rounds fired. During our entire stay at Isigny, a total of 853 rounds was fired. On June 20 we were almost positive that we had our first kill. We submitted a formal claim, but we could not locate the wreckage, though we searched for hours between hedgerows and among the trees.
Life in the field was simple, almost crude. We lived in pup-tents pitched over fox holes. We ate either "C" or "10-in-1" rations. For a good while there were no bathing or washing facilities except our general-purpose steel helmets and canteen water. Danger lurked everywhere with paratrooper-warnings circulating, snipers hidden everywhere, and fields on both sides of the roads loaded with mines. It was Ist Sgt. Guthrie who captured our first POW, an arrogant German flier. Consequently we were ever watchful, and several machine guns were placed between the hedgerows that are so numerous in Normandy.
Already the French civilians were eager to manifest their friendliness by offering us milk, eggs, and fruit. Those of us who never saw a word of French before soon learned to say, "Avez vous des oeufs?" and to many of us 'berets' and 'sabots' became a familiar sight.